On Thursday evening, over a hundred students gathered in room 54-100 to learn something that is usually not formally taught in MIT classes: how to run a startup.
Leading the discussion were three partners from Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s leading startup accelerators. Several MIT companies, including Dropbox and Stripe, were funded by the accelerator.
“There is no pre-startup like there is pre-med,” said Sam Altman, the 29-year-old president of Y Combinator. He encouraged students to start working on a startup immediately and learn along the way.
For students interested in startups, universities form a great hub of ideas and people, said Altman. “School is the best possible place to meet potential cofounders.”
Altman cautioned people, however, from attempting to do both school and startups at the same time. People who try it often “fail miserably at both,” he said.
Students were also encouraged to steer clear of large companies. It’s easy to always want the next most prestigious title—Andover, MIT, Facebook—said Altman. He argued that small, fast-growing startups offer students more significant roles and fulfillment in their jobs.
Y Combinator visited MIT as part of an annual East Coast tour in which they recruit students for their summer accelerator program. Almost all the students in the audience said they wanted to apply at some point.
Y Combinator usually invests $120 thousand in its startups, but Altman revealed during the Q-and-A that they have plans for helping startups requiring more money. “We have some news coming on that,” he said.
During the Q-and-A, Altman also said the greatest weakness he finds in MIT students who go through Y Combinator is their “unwillingness to go out and actually talk to users.”
Entrepreneurs need to both write code and talk to users, he said. It’s not one or the other.
Students wanted to know which types of startups Y Combinator would fund, asking about everything from nuclear fusion reactors to biotechnology.
According to the partners, any startup is fair game.
One student even posed a non-software project of his that removes ice from airplane wings. Without hesitation, Altman responded, “We’ve actually funded an ice removal company before.”